Mercury with Super-Dignity
If you believe that Mercury, the planet of intellect, must bode well for the intellect in its own domiciles, Gemini and Virgo, then you are mistaken. The delineation of intellectual prowess is a matter that goes far beyond the sign placement of Mercury. Additionally, many ancient astrologers considered Mercury in a mutable sign, especially one of its own domiciles, to have a destabilizing effect on the mind. This is in contrast to what one may assume based on the level of “dignity” of Mercury in its own domicile.
Due to an over-reliance on sign-based dignity in delineation, there is a trend among today’s traditional astrologers to consider a planet in its own domicile as signifying that the natural significations of the planet are strong and beneficial. In the case of Mercury in its own domicile, it would have a dignity score of at least +8 by the most common scoring methods. By such an approach, the natural significations of Mercury in relation to the intellect, communication, cleverness, and quickness would all be accentuated in a beneficial way.
Dignity isn’t Dignified
For those who don’t know, I’m a strong critic of the over-reliance on dignity in traditional circles for matters of the strength and goodness of a planet. I do use “dignity” for rulership, pertinence, and various qualitative considerations including a type of prototypicality (a type of strength). However, I have made it a point to speak out against the use of dignity as a chief strength consideration, and especially for any matter of goodness, benefit, or “dignity” in the dictionary sense.
I completely avoid the use of dignity in that manner in my own work on the blog. I also frequently engage in polemics about the idiocy of heavy reliance on dignity. For instance, I’ve discussed the dignity problem in “The Curious Case of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner” (and its sequel) and “Dignity: The Biggest Problem with Late Traditional Astrology“. Here I look at one particularly cogent error of the dignity approach, the belief that Mercury, the natural significator of the rationalizing mind, bodes well for the intellect in the signs where it is most dignified, its domiciles Virgo and Gemini.
Mercury in Virgo or Gemini Can Be An Indication of a Small Intellect
Both Masha’allah (On Nativities, c.f. Dykes trans., 2008, Section 5) and Abu’ali al-Khayyat (The Judgment of Nativities, c.f. Dykes trans., 2009, Ch. 5) discussed the signification of Mercury for thought and speech. One factor examined is its occurrence in sign of different quadruplicities. Signs come in three flavors of quadruplicity, cardinal (aka moveable/changeable), fixed (aka solid), or mutable (aka common). The “quad” in quadruplicity comes from the fact that there are 4 signs in each group.
Their comments take place in their discussion of delineating character, mind, and will in the chart. For that type of delineation, they both rely heavily upon the lord of the Ascendant and Mercury. Mercury indicates the manner of speaking (and also of intellect, to at least Abu’ali).
They seem to agree that Mercury in a cardinal sign (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) indicates an enthusiasm, fast grasp of things, and even skill in speech. Mercury in a fixed sign (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) indicates a deeper more serious search for truth and a giver of good advice. However, Mercury in a mutable sign, which includes Virgo and Gemini as well as Sagittarius and Pisces, is indicative of a small intellect quick to anger and slow to understand. Additionally, Abu Bakr, in a passage pertaining to indications of quickness to rage, noted Mercury in one of his own domiciles as an indication of instability. These passages are summarized below.
Mercury through the Quadruplicities
Mercury in a Cardinal/Moveable Sign (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn)
Masha’allah said, “…strong and in a moveable sign, it indicates he has a good way of speaking, and an honored one, and one fearing God” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398). On Mercury in a cardinal sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies the intellect’s loftiness, easy grasp [of things], and [its] beauty, and love of the sciences, and religion” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236).
Mercury in a Fixed/Solid Sign (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius)
Masha’allah said, “…it indicates he is going to be honored, and by means of truth and goodness and counsel in his life, and his advice will be most truthful in every way, and will free hindered advice from hindrances” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398). On Mercury in a fixed sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies prudence, constancy, mercy [or pity], and the fulfillment of things undertaken” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236).
Mercury in a Mutable/Common Sign (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces)
Masha’allah said, “…it indicates he has little wisdom, and is liable to anger, and as a rule he does not believe the advice of another” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398). On Mercury in a mutable sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies a small intellect with great speediness, and quickness to anger, and a scarce and small stability or perseverance in something undertaken, or advice, or business” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236). Additionally, Abu Bakr noted, “If Mercury were in his own domicile, the native will be fearful and unsound” (Dykes, 2010, On Nativities, Book II, Ch. 1.2, p. 143).
Not Just About Mercury
The delineation of intellectual strength is not something to be taken lightly. Intellect cannot be delineated based on the quadruplicity of Mercury’s sign placement alone. Many of the quotes above were said to pertain to both Mercury and the Lord of the Ascendant, as both were relevant concerning the character. Additionally, the approach is based strongly on Ptolemy (2nd century) who also emphasized the quadruplicity of the significant personality factors. However, Ptolemy’s main factors were the Moon and Mercury (rather than Asc Lord and Mercury). In what follows, “solstitial” means cardinal and “bicoporeal” means mutable.
Of the signs of the zodiac in general, then, the solstitial signs produce souls fitted for dealing with the people, fond of turbulence and political activity, glory-seeking, moreover, and attentive to the gods, noble, mobile, inquisitive, inventive, good at conjecture, and fitted for astrology and divination. The bicorporeal signs make souls complex, changeable, hard to apprehend, light, unstable, fickle, amorous, versatile, fond of music, lazy, easily acquisitive, prone to change their minds. The solid signs make them just, unaffected by flattery, persistent, firm, intelligent, patient, industrious, stern, self-controlled, tenacious of grudges, extortionate, contentious, ambitious, factious, grasping, hard, inflexible. (Ptolemy, Book III, Ch. 13, Robbins trans., p. 335)
Quadruplicity is just one consideration, and a thorough consideration of quadruplicity should involve looking at the quadruplicity of not only Mercury, but also its twelfth-part, the Ascendant, the Ascendant lord, the Moon, and the Lot of Spirit. There have been great geniuses born with Mercury in each of the signs. Consider the following individuals with Mercury in mutable signs:
Gemini: Nikola Tesla, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, etc.
Virgo: Leo Tolstoy, Howard Hughes, Claude Debussy, George Soros, etc.
Sagittarius: Isaac Newton, Noam Chomsky, Benoit Mandelbrot, etc.
Pisces: Copernicus, Bach, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson. etc.
The Benefits of Mercury in Detriment or Fall
Many traditional astrologers today associate Mercury in detriment or fall with a “debilitated Mercury”. This debility means that Mercury is not able to express its true nature, being weakened by the contrary sign and overall less fortunate. However, Mercury is in detriment or fall when it is in one of the signs of Jupiter, the greater benefic. Rulership by Jupiter at least links Mercury with wisdom, philosophy and/or religion, and the search for greater truth. Rulership by Jupiter also links Mercury with gain and fortune.
Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hirata (child prodigy with a very high IQ who started work with NASA when 16), both have Mercury in Sagittarius. Both also have Mercury combust the Sun in Sagittarius, not regarded by its ruler Jupiter, but conjunct an angle and in a stake, with strong identification with Mercury as it is either in the first or ruling the first house in both charts. Copernicus too had Mercury ruled by Jupiter, this time in Pisces. Mercury is again with the Sun in a stake, with Mercury ruling the first house (Virgo), though he has Jupiter regarding Mercury.
In these cases, we see that the other factors are more important than dignity, quadruplicity, reception, and combustion. The link of Mercury with Jupiter by rulership, the prominence of Mercury by advancement, and the identification with Mercury shown through some important rulership of the Ascendant and/or position in the stakes are more important indications of notable intellectual prowess. Note that Mercury with the Sun may show additional public importance.
What is significant is that Mercury in a mutable sign, especially Mercury in its own domicile, was ever considered an indication of a weaker, more superficial, or more unstable intellect. It is also interesting that Mercury was given a relatively similar signification in all the mutable signs. These signs range from those where Mercury has negative dignity by scoring methods to those with very positive dignity.
This historic fact indicates that “dignity” was much less emphasized than it is today, while other sign features like quadruplicity were more emphasized, at least among some ancient astrologers. Today, dignity is too often treated as an over-riding factor for strength and benefit associated with a planet. In truth, it is just a planet ruling itself, one that’s become a little bit more hyper-prototypical and less tied to other planets. In the case of Mercury, this may not be a good thing.
Mercury’s Mercurial Enough
Mercury, as a significator of intellect and speech, moves from place to place and constantly connects things. It is like the syntax of language, chaining complex ideas together. Similarly, mutable signs are associated with back-and-forth between two things or parties. It would seem that a mutable sign accentuates the instability of Mercury, rather than directing it and stabilizing it. Furthermore, when he’s just working for himself, so to speak, Mercury is even more unstable. This seems to be particularly so in Gemini, which is additionally an air sign, accentuating the flitting quality of Mercury.
In my experience, I find Mercury’s quadruplicity to be a weaker indication of intellectual strength or its lack. I may address the delineation of intellect at greater depth in a future article. The main idea here is that Mercury in its own signs may be a counter-indication of intellectual strength. For this reason, and many more, we should not over-rely on the concept of dignity for strength or benefit.
Personal Note: Mercury in Fall
On a personal note, my daughter’s early and articulate language use has impressed me. She has Mercury in Pisces and combust, within 3 degrees of the Sun, though strongly advancing and in the 5th. Additionally, four of her seven planets are in Air signs, including a Gemini Moon. Jupiter, the ruler of Mercury, is cadent and retreating in the 12th, so it does not aspect Mercury. She was fluid and articulate in her speech from when she first began to speak. She has always been ahead of the curve both linguistically and mathematically. Teachers have raved to me about the depth of her story-telling and social abilities. She tells her stories with an unusual amount of detail and is not afraid to use big words.
My hope is that this article forces many astrologers to question their assumptions about dignity. A sign’s influence on the significations of a planet are more complex than dignity scoring would have one believe. The quadruplicity, triplicity, and nature of the ruler of a sign are important considerations. They can be obscured in an approach that emphasizes dignity. Additionally, the delineation of any matter, including the manner of speech and thought, involves more than just sign placement, and should involve multiple relevant factors.
Update October 2018
This article was thoroughly edited and updated in late October of 2018 with additional content intended to clarify the main points.
Mercury with Fig Leaf (cropped) by Sputnikcccp at en.wikipedia. Photo taken by Sputnikcccp in the Vatican, May 25, 2003. (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [GFDL, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons